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The Garden of Shiloh

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Summary

Need a match but tired of the yentas? Try the Garden of Shiloh on Tu B'Av. You might find what you are looking for or Beshert may find you.

Genre:
Romance / Fantasy
Author:
AK Eytan
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Tribe of Benjamin Chapter 1

In the time of the Tribes, the Tribe of Benjamin suffered punishment for their war against the other tribes. This punishment meant they were not permitted to marry the daughters of the other tribes. However, this prohibition reduced the tribe’s population almost to extinction. To counter this, the elders had allowed the remaining 600 men of Benjamin to marry the Dancing Daughters of Shiloh. The Tribe of Benjamin was saved and many thousands of years later, the modern age came upon the people.

While tribal lines had been lost, modern DNA and genome mapping advances brought the lines back from the dead. This revelation changed many holidays, including Tu B’Av, the day of love. Now, the fashion had become for the women of every tribe to enter the Gardens of Shiloh to pick a husband from whatever tribe was present that year.

This year was the year of the Tribe of Benjamin. The mothers of eligible sons had advertised their sons’ many qualities, like intelligence and handsome features. The star of the year was Joseph of Benjamin, whose figure astounded everyone he met. He was charismatic, witty, and, most importantly, wealthy. Anie rolled her eyes as she scrolled over the biodata, tossed her phone away, and picked up her magic eight ball. She had bought it on a whim the day before. “Rue, this can’t be real,” she said to her sister Ruach, who was also scrolling through biodata. “If it is, then he’s practically a god among men. Handsome, charming, intelligent, rich, but what isn’t it saying? Is he perhaps a total douche canoe?” Anan shook her magic eight ball. “It says signs point to run, girl, run!”

“It does not, Anie,” said Rue. “You will have to choose a husband this year. Abba won’t stop complaining about the lack of sons-in-law until you do. There’s also Imma. She’s not going to let up about weddings and grandkids. You’re twenty-seven, which is basically a spinster by Austen standards.”

“I will not be judged by Austen standards. The woman had a sixteen-year-old marry a man in his mid-thirties,” argued Anan. She sat on her bed and looked out the hotel’s window. The hotel overlooked the infamous Garden of Shiloh. She shook her head in disgust. “Don’t get too excited, Rue. You have to look for a husband too.”

“Yes, but this is my first year, so I can take a pass if I want. You are going for your fourth year, and if you don’t come home with a husband, they won’t let you come home at all.” Rue looked out the window with her sister.

“But this is all so archaic! Why do we have to find husbands at all? Why can’t we just live our lives and have children via sperm donors when we feel up to being parents?” asked Anan. The questions were pointless. She knew the answers.

“Anie, you know the law. You’ll only get the wedding subsidy from the government if you find a husband in four attempts. After that, your biodata gets marked, and you basically get backlisted in the matchmaking market,” answered Rue.

“This is horribly skewed and sexist,” she said, turning from the window.

“Is it? The men only get a chance when it’s their tribe’s year. If they don’t find a bride, they have to hope their sister or cousin finds a husband with a willing female relative. Or wait another twelve years to try again,” Rue said. “Technically, it’s Joseph of Benjamin’s second attempt. His first attempt was when he came of age at twenty.”

“Really?” asked Anie. She grabbed her phone to review the biodata. There it was at the very bottom, Attempt: 2. “Well, well, well, Prince Charming has a flaw after all.”

“Oh yeah, real shocker, he couldn’t find a bride at twenty.” Rue’s sardonic tone made Anie giggle. “So, what’s the plan?”

“The same plan I have kept for the last three years. I will go up a tree and wait.” Anie had managed to hide from every potential suitor before and planned to do it again. These conventions on wedding subsidies and blacklists weren’t going to rule her life and tell her what to do.

“Seriously? You’d rather be blacklisted than marry Joseph the Prince of Charming?” asked Rue. She wondered how dedicated her sister was to the idea and if she was willing to forgo any chance of marriage.

“Yes, I’m not going to let a bunch of yentas rule my life, Rue.” Anie looked at her sister and saw the concern in her eyes. “But that doesn’t mean you need to follow my path. If you find Joseph first, then absolutely hold him down and demand he marries you. Hell, I’ll hold him down and demand he marries you.”

Rue smiled. The alarm beeped on their phones. “We’d better get ready. I hear if we’re late, our value goes down by a whole camel.”

“I think I’m down like eight camels at this point and roughly two and one-third goats,” joked Anie. They dressed in white dresses reminiscent of a bygone era but loose enough that Anie could climb a tree.

Anie and Rue arrived at the gates to the Garden of Shiloh in time for the gates to open. The women would enter first and position themselves at different spots among the greenery. Then the men would enter and peruse the wares, so to speak. Anie traveled to her usual tree near the center of the botanical garden and climbed up to her regular branch that kept her out of sight of the men. She could see them walking below, but every year they never looked up. Anie pulled her book out of her bag, which she hung from another branch, and started to read.

Joseph and his twin brother Benji arrived at the gates. They had prepared all year for this day. He could see that Benji was nervous. “It’s going to be fine. You’ll find someone today, or we will keep trying. There’s no pressure.”

Except there was pressure. Benji had had girlfriends in the past, but they either didn’t want to settle down or weren’t Jewish and didn’t want to convert. On top of that, many of the Jewish women he had been set up with didn’t handle his speech impediment well. It hindered his career advancement, but that was a problem for another time. Benji only nodded. He and Joseph were identical twins, except Joseph had been more socially and physically gifted.

In contrast, Benji had taken a more academic, nerd-chic path. Joseph had a muscular physique and carried himself with the confidence of a celebrity. Benji ran on the slender side and tended to keep to himself. His social skills weren’t helped by his s stutter, which worsened when he was stressed or nervous.

The men entered the gates and began walking around. Benji noted how many women tried to get Joseph’s attention, but none succeeded. Joseph would find a bride, whether it was today or next year. He was that kind of a catch. None of the women gave Benji more than a cursory glance. Sometimes Joseph was more of a hindrance as a wingman. They continued walking until they found a bench underneath a tree. Benji needed to sit down to work up his courage to approach the women. “You’re doing great, Benji,” said Joseph. “Take your time.”

Anie looked down from her perch to see Joseph of Benjamin and the man he called Benji. The man seemed to struggle, and she wanted to be annoyed. Still, his body language reminded her of her abba before his lectures in the big hall at the university.

“Breathe in, breathe out. All you need to do is start with a hello. You’re gonna do great, Benji,” said Joseph as he patted his brother on the back. Anie could see they must be brothers or at least related because of the care Prince Charming had for the man. Then she had a thought.

“I’m sorry. Isn’t Benji short for Benjamin?” Anie asked herself. “So, he’s Benjamin of Benjamin.” The two men looked up at Anie, who looked back. “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just up here, waiting for this whole thing out. You men usually never look up, so I can understand why this is a bit awkward.” She tried to return to her book.

“It-t-t is-s-s a t-t-t-terrible name,” said Benji. Hearing it out loud, he did see the humor in his name. This woman was odd, he thought, and that oddity made him more comfortable. Somehow her being potentially stranger than him was relieving.

“Yeah, I mean, literally any other name would be better. Well, except Methuselah, but that’s just a terrible name no matter what you do,” she said. Anie shut her book and swung her legs over, so they were dangling off the branch and swinging in the air. “Benji of Benjamin, you’re here to find a wife, and you’ve got a terrible name. I’m Anan of Issachar. It means cloud because my parents thought I would be cloud-headed. Aren’t parents just the best?”

Benji chuckled. Joseph stood back a little. He was surprised that his brother spoke as he normally would avoid it at all costs, but this Anan had caught them off guard. “P-p-parents c-can be b-b-bast-t-tards.”

“Oh, no, that’s just people. People are a bunch of bastards. Especially the yentas,” Anan said. She inwardly cringed at the thought of meeting another disapproving matchmaker. Benji watched her turn her focus inward, and something almost like sadness crossed her face.

“Y-you h-have some experience?” asked Benji. His stutter lessened as his comfort level went up. Knowing she struggled with the whole marriage concept made her less imposing and more relatable.

“I’m of marriage age, so, yeah, I have way too much experience. I have a statistically significant amount of experience with yentas,” she said. Benji laughed. “If only I could get a university to fund my yenta study, but alas, ’tis not to be.” Anie leaned back on one hand and dramatically put the other to her forehead.

“W-why not?” he asked. Benji needed to know more. Joseph stepped back even further from the two as he loved watching this interaction, and he didn’t want to become a distraction.

“Well, I don’t have a Ph.D., nor do I want one. So, I need to find someone with a doctorate to run my study on yentas. I’d ask my abba, but then he would only use the yentas to marry me off, defeating the purpose of the study,” Anie answered. She liked the look of this Benji and that he didn’t seem to be taking this whole enter the garden walk out with a bride situation too seriously.

“W-which is?”

“To see how many matches a single woman approaching spinsterhood can refuse before a yenta has a psychotic break.”

He smiled. “Y-you don’t w-want t-to get m-married?” Benji asked. He liked Anan’s honesty, and she didn’t make anything of his stuttering.

“I don’t honestly know. I don’t want to be forced into a marriage with a man who might beat me. That’s my fear, and I don’t know how the yentas can prevent that from happening. How do you screen for a wife beater?” Anie’s question made Benji thoughtful. He sat down on the bench and considered the quandary. Joseph watched from a distance as she came down from the tree and sat next to Benji. “You’re afraid you’ll never find a wife. I don’t say that to be mean. I only mean that it’s the obvious fear given your terrible name.”

Benji nodded. “Ex-exactly.”

“Okay, I’m going to ask a series of questions, and you nod for yes and shake for no. Do you agree to be asked my questions and answer honestly?” Anie asked. Benji nodded, curious to see where this was going. “Good. Do you have a university degree?” Benji nodded. “Do you currently work at a university?” Benji raised an eyebrow and nodded again. “Do you have a Ph.D.?” Benji’s mouth dropped open in surprise, and he nodded again. “I knew it. You’re just like my abba. Okay, I’m guessing you’re research focused because of the terrible name.”

“Th-that’s not a q-question,” said Benji.

“You’re only supposed to nod or shake your head,” Anie countered. Benji gave her a suspicious look. “Don’t look at me like that. You agreed to the rules. All I did was make them up.” She lifted her hands in a gesture of innocence.

“Y-you’re s-sup-p-posed to ask q-questions.”

“Fine, you’re right. I am, but I’m also a troublemaker and a rulebreaker, so I have to stay true to my brand. Not to mention I’m cloud-headed,” Anie said, shrugging her shoulders. Benji laughed again. She liked his laugh and that he seemed to be doing much better.

“Anie! You’re talking to a boy!” shouted Rue as she ran over.

“Damn it, I’ve been caught doing the one thing I said I wouldn’t do.” Anie shook her fist at the sky.

“D-did y-you make an r-rule about it?” asked Benji. Joseph laughed, and everyone looked at him.

“Oh, yeah, Rue, Prince Charming is here. You want me to hold him down for you?” asked Anie. Rue blushed and sheepishly shook her head. Anie saw Benji’s face fall a little. He wondered if Anan was attracted to his twin. Would she be another woman who would rather choose Joseph? “This is Rue’s first year, and Joseph over there is the top suitor. Personally, I don’t see it. Too much muscle. His jaw is too chiseled, and his name is only kind of terrible.” Anie rolled her eyes.

Joseph scoffed. “Too much muscle? Too chiseled?” They all turned to him again. Benji started to shrink again, much to Anie’s notice.

“Yes, I read your biodata, and you are simply too good to be true. Which means there must be some horrible flaw that you are hiding. Gambling addiction? Credit card debt? No, I think it is that you are exactly as advertised,” said Anie. The group looked at her now. “Too perfect to live up to. Any woman would never be able to match your qualities.”

Silence descended upon them. Anie wanted to go back up her tree and escape the thoughts she had evoked for herself. Benji wanted to leave the garden and resign himself to his lab. Joseph looked down at his shoes, reflecting on Anie’s words.

Rue hated the silence and decided to break it. “Anie, did you find someone, or are you really going through with it? Being blacklisted?” asked Rue. Everyone now looked at Anie again.

“Gee, Rue, dear, please reveal all of my deep dark secrets to these mostly strange men.” Anie gestured to Benji and Joseph.

“She also farts in her sleep,” said Rue. Anie’s eyes went wide with disbelief. Benji laughed again. Joseph chuckled.

“Gentlemen, I ask that you please say nice things when you attend my sister’s funeral later today,” responded Anie as she stood from the bench and started after her sister, who fled up the tree. Benji stood from the bench in the frenzy and watched as Anie tried to follow Rue. She lost her grip and fell back. Benji stepped toward the tree and caught her before she hit the ground. They sat on the ground, Anie in Benji’s arms. She looked into his eyes and saw herself reflected back. Anie reached to touch his cheek and brushed the hair from his face. Déjà vu came over her. “I have seen you before,” she whispered.

Benji breathed a little labored. The intimate touch was not something he had expected nor her words. They echoed in a way only Benji could hear, as if she had said them at another time. He helped Anie up from the ground so that they stood at the base of the tree, looking only at each other. Emotion welled up inside her, sadness and happiness mixed like seeing someone you have missed for a long time. He didn’t understand why, but he knew she needed to be embraced, so he embraced her. Anie hugged him tight, suddenly afraid Benji would disappear. “It’s ok-kay,” he said. “I’m-m h-here.”

No one moved for a moment. Benji took in the scent of her hair, a delicate sweetness. He realized he should feel very awkward and possibly stifled. Benji should think Anie’s behavior was wildly inappropriate, but he couldn’t. That scent he had a flash of a memory of that scent and laughter and morning light through a curtain, followed by the ache of being torn away from someone. His arms wouldn’t let her go. They knew something he did not. Anie shifted and ended the embrace. “I’m sorry,” she said and shook her head. “That was not something I intended to do today.” She came back to herself.

The cold of the loss of Benji’s arms around her made Anie rub her own arms. She turned from him and shut her eyes. Benji gazed at Anie’s back. He reached out but not far enough to make contact with her. She wiped a stray tear from her face. Lifting her head and shaking her shoulders, Anie turned back to Benji, whose clothes had become something closer to a tunic. She blinked her eyes. She looked down at her clothes, which had changed to a matching sheath dress as if they had been cut from the same fabric. Rue and Joseph had vanished. It was only Benji and herself now. “Do you see this?” she asked, suddenly fearful that she might be hallucinating.

Benji nodded as he looked around. Anie stepped closer to him and grabbed his hand. “I’m scared.” He laced his fingers in hers and squeezed her hand. She smiled at him. “Please don’t let go.”

“N-never,” Benji replied. Anie inhaled deeply and breathed out slowly. Neither understood what exactly was happening, but it felt like being inside a memory. The world slowly transitioned back to where it had been. “M-marry me?” The words came out before he could stop them. Anie looked at him, her heart racing so fast she thought she might pass out.

“Do you promise not to beat me?” she asked. Joseph stepped over when he heard the question. He was offended, for his twin’s sake.

“My brother is not that--” Joseph started. Benji held up his free hand to stop him.

“I p-promise,” said Benji.

“I don’t know how I feel about you. I just met you, but I think you are someone important. Is it the same for you?” Anie asked. Benji nodded and squeezed her hand. She smiled back. “For me, marriage is a partnership. This means you are choosing me as your partner for better or worse. Be it a card game or a dance, I will be your partner, me, Anan, the cloud-headed woman from Issachar. And you will be my partner, Benji, the terribly named man from Benjamin. Do you agree to this?” Benji nodded. Anie chewed her lip while she considered this proposal. “We leave together. They don’t follow us. Just you and me?” She gripped his hand a little tighter. Benji stepped to her and squeezed back.

“Y-you and m-me.” He didn’t break eye contact as he said it.

“Yes,” said Anie. She exhaled a ragged breath. Benji smiled and chuckled. Anie looked at him and giggled. “We are getting married.”

“Sh-shall we?” he asked as he gestured toward the path out of the garden. Anie nodded. Joseph and Rue looked at each other.

“Wait, you’re just going to leave? Just like that?” asked Rue from her tree branch.

Anie looked at her. “We’ll wait for you both at a café outside,” she said.

“Benji?” called Joseph. He didn’t know what to think. This outcome, a match, was a big hope for the day, but here it is, and the woman wanted to take his twin away from him. “You can’t just take my brother away.”

“I don’t want to take your brother away, but I do want some privacy to get to know him without anyone else’s influence. Can’t I have a date with him?” Anie asked. Joseph exhaled. He couldn’t argue that request.

Benji stepped to his brother. “Sh-she is r-right. We sh-should t-talk al-lone.” Joseph nodded, and the pair made their way out of the botanical garden. Outside the gate, several clerks stood at podiums equipped with computers to process the participants as they exited. Benji and Anie went to one of the free clerks and worked through the bureaucracy.

“Participant IDs” asked the clerk. Benji let go of Anie’s hand briefly to give his ID to the clerk. Anie also produced her ID but quickly found Benji’s hand again. He smiled as he felt her fingers entwine with his. The clerk typed in the computer. “Have you both agreed to marry willingly and without undue pressure?” They both nodded, then looked at each other and laughed. Anie put her free hand on Benji’s upper arm, bringing her body closer to him. He felt the warmth of her nearness and covered her hand with his. The clerk typed some more. “Okay, you have six months to register the marriage in order to receive the subsidy. Once you have successfully registered, the funds will be distributed in the following six to eight weeks. Here is your information packet, along with your participant IDs. The IDs will be required to register, so don’t lose them. Mazel tov.” The clerk handed Benji the packet.

They spotted a café nearby and went to grab a seat. They found a booth in a corner and sat next to each other. Only when sitting, did Benji let go of her hand. Once seated, he put his arm around her, and Anie slid flush to his side. The world seemed too cold to sit apart. “So, we just met all of what ninety minutes ago, and now we are engaged. How exactly did that happen?” Anie asked. “And what was that...that change?”

A server came to their table and handed them menus, interrupting Anie’s questions. “Call me over when you’re ready.” The server walked away. Benji didn’t care about the menus. He didn’t care about much beyond taking in this woman sitting next to him. Benji observed how her black-brown hair framed her oval face bringing together her hazel eyes and olive skin. Yes, he thought her attractive, but the way she had accepted him from the beginning was her winning feature. Anie caught his eyes with her gaze and brought him back to the present.

“You spend a lot of time observing things, don’t you?” she asked. “It’s because of your speech impediment, isn’t it?” Benji blushed. “I don’t mean to embarrass you, but we have to talk about it because it means I have to be patient when you do make the effort to speak. It’s nice because I know when you do speak, it’s because you have something to say. Too many people are compelled to fill the silence with nonsense.”

He took a moment, and she waited patiently. “Y-you s-see me,” he said, his words full of many meanings.

“Of course, if I’m going to marry you, then I need to see you. I should see you and understand you better than anyone else. Otherwise, I’m not going to make a very good partner.” She wiped a tear that had started to fall down his cheek. “But we need to find a way to communicate because we met only ten minutes ago, and I know almost nothing about you.”

Benji had a thought and took his phone out of his pocket. He opened an app that had one of his latest papers loaded on it. He handed the phone to Anie, who read it over. She laughed and shook her head. “There’s a lot here, but I’m not a scientist, so you must help me learn.” Benji nodded, excited to show her his passion. “You have a lot to say when you can say it...wait,” she said. Anie pulled out her own phone and opened the contacts. She clicked to create a new contact and then handed him her phone. “Put in your phone and email. We can text and send each other letters.”

The contact she had started read The Terribly Named Man for a first name, and Benji laughed when he saw it. She took his phone and entered her information under the name The Cloud-headed Woman. Then she switched the phone to camera mode. “We need a profile picture for our contacts. Look into the camera.” Benji did then Anie leaned close and whispered in his ear. “You are an attractive man, but I find your mind the sexiest.” She snapped a few images as she whispered. He turned to her with her face so close to his. He lifted his hand to her cheek then she kissed him. Her soft lips enveloped his bottom lip, and he returned the gesture with gentle passion. The kiss ended with her forehead pressed against his. “Kissing you is exactly as it should be,” she said, her voice quivering lightly.

“Y-yes, it is,” Benji said and kissed her again. Minutes passed with them existing in this intimate moment.

“Anie!” yelled a female voice.

“Benji!” yelled a male voice.

The kissing ended and Benji sighed. “D-date’s over.”

“How long have we been here? Thirty minutes maybe, and they can’t just leave us alone?” asked Anie. Their foreheads were still touching, and Anie’s eyes were still closed. She didn’t want to break their connection just yet. Benji gave her a light peck on the lips before pulling away, a small gesture to simply say he shared her sentiment. Anie shifted back to Benji’s side, his arm settling around her waist. They both watched the scandalized Rue and Joseph approach.

“Really, Anie? You can’t just make out with some stranger you just met,” said Rue exasperated to find her sister in such a position.

Anie sat a little straighter and positioned her body between Rue and Benji. “First of all, it’s a little ironic that I can get engaged to a stranger I just met, but you think it’s scandalous for me to kiss that same person. Secondly, he’s not a stranger. He’s Benji, my fiancé, who I will marry within the next six months.”

Joseph slid into the booth to sit across from Benji. “Don’t you think this is moving a little fast?” he asked his brother. Benji gave his brother an incredulous look.

“R-really? F-fast? W-wasn’t that th-the whole point?” Benji countered.

“Anie, are you really going to marry the first man who came along?” asked Rue, who sat in the booth next to Joseph but across from Anie.

“Technically, Joseph got to the tree first, and I had chosen my book over him until Benji sat down on the bench. That makes Benji the second guy to come along AND the guy I chose over a book. You know how I feel about being interrupted while reading,” argued Anie. Rue sat back to consider her sister’s words. Benji looked at Anie while smiling ear to ear. He genuinely adored the way she held her own. “Besides, the whole idea of the Garden of Shiloh is to find a match. Why are you both so shocked? Okay, Rue, I can understand your shock. I did say that I was planning on hiding in a tree and waiting the whole thing out for appearances. But then Benji was there, and my plans took a left turn. It’s not my fault he has a terrible name that I find endlessly amusing.”

Benji pinched her side gently making Anie giggle. “C-clouded h-headed woman,” he said. Rue’s mouth dropped open, and Joseph sat back.

“You two have really hit it off. I mean, genuinely hit it off,” said Joseph.

“She never lets anyone call her cloud-headed. Anie, you must really like him,” said Rue. The two siblings looked at each other and then at Anie and Benji. “So, you’re really doing it then. Well, Abba and Imma will be happy. Imma will want to plan everything. Who are we kidding, she probably has a plan already, and all she’s been waiting for is Benji to show up.”

“Our parents are waiting too, Benji. They will want to have dinner tonight to meet Anie and her family,” said Joseph. Benji didn’t like this thought. His relationship with his mother was complicated, to say the least, and he wasn’t sure she would take to Anie. At the same time, Benji considered that his mother might not have much choice. Breaking the engagement would have consequences since Anie, and he had registered with the clerk. At the same time, he wanted to see Anie interact with his mother because he had a feeling she might make his mother rethink her position on many things in life.

The earlier server returned and handed menus to Joseph and Rue. “Are you really going to do this? Are you really going to sit and have coffee right now?” asked Anie, who was annoyed with the both of them.

“What?” asked Rue indignantly. Joseph frowned at Anie.

“We told you we wanted some time to get to know each other without anyone else around. We were on a date for all of thirty minutes before you guys showed up. Also, we have just established that Benji and I are set on going through with this engagement, so it would be nice if you could give us some space,” said Anie.

“I would hardly call making out a ‘date,’” said Joseph. He was irritated that Anie was again pushing him away from his brother.

Benji frowned at his twin and shook his head. “W-we got c-caught up in a m-moment, b-but-”

“Caught up in a moment? Benji, you were practically going at it right here,” whispered Joseph harshly as he gestured to the table. Anie narrowed her eyes, noting how Joseph had casually cut off Benji.

“I am a g-grown m-man. If I w-want to f-fuck my f-fiancé on t-table, then I will!” said Benji. He hated when people interrupted him, especially his own family. He felt they, of all people, should know better. Anie looked at Benji with renewed respect. Joseph looked as if someone had slapped him.

“Anie, are you going to let him talk about you like that?” asked Rue shocked and offended for her sister.

Anie looked at her sister. “Yes, I am. If it offends you that much, maybe you should go back to the hotel.” She didn’t mean to seem harsh, but Anie also hated that she and Benji were being infantilized. “Both of you fail to grasp that Benji and I are adults who have made a choice and are trying to make good on that choice. Both of you are unnecessarily stunned that two people who have committed themselves to each other might be attracted to each other and want to act on that attraction.”

“This isn’t some fairytale, Anie, is it? My twin brother’s life and heart are at stake,” replied Joseph, readying himself for a fight.

“W-what ab-bout her h-heart and h-her life?” asked Benji. He had taken his arm from around Anie’s waist to lay across her lap in a protective gesture, his body now positioned between his brother and her. Anie took his hand in hers. “Are th-they n-not also at st-stake?”

Joseph glared at his brother, then relented. Benji had a point. Rue considered the pair and that this man was standing up for her sister to his brother. “Maybe we should all go,” suggested Rue. “I think everything has happened very quickly, and we should all take a moment to breathe. Joseph, your parents will want to have dinner, correct?” Joseph nodded. “Okay, so we can all meet again for dinner, and in the meantime, we can all take a moment to process everything.”

Anie hated this idea. She hated not being able to continue her date with Benji. She hated having to split up and return to the hotel, but most of all, she hated that Rue was right. Anie rested her head on Benji’s shoulder and squeezed his hand. Benji squeezed back. He knew Anie’s sister was right, but he didn’t like it. “You’re right, Rue. Let’s all go back to our hotels, assuming you and Joseph are staying at a hotel?” She lifted her head off Benji’s shoulder and looked at him. Benji nodded in affirmation. “And your parents are staying there as well?” Again, Benji nodded. “Our parents are not here. They sent Rue and me alone, hoping that would take off the pressure and we,” she started and looked at Rue, who gave her a pointed look back. “Mainly, I would find a husband. I want it noted that I hate that it kind of worked.” Benji laughed. He wanted to kiss her again but stopped himself. Benji didn’t like sharing that intimate gesture in front of his undeserving brother. Instead, he moved his arm back around her waist and squeezed her. Anie slid her right hand up his back and her left hand onto his chest just over his heart. She could feel it beating through the t-shirt fabric. Benji placed his other hand over hers, hoping she understood that, at this moment, his heart beat only for her.

“Hey, lovebirds, we should go before you forget where you are,” said Joseph. His feelings were complex. This woman made his brother happy, but she was driving a wedge between them. Benji rarely ever went against him, but today he had been utterly rebellious. His brother glowered at him and then rolled his eyes.

Moving from the booth, the foursome exited the restaurant without ordering anything. They stood in a public square that viewed the botanical garden entrance down the road from a major intersection. “Our hotel is that way,” Rue said as she pointed north of the square. “We can walk from here.” She moved to grab Anie’s arm.

“Our hotel is this way,” said Joseph pointing south of the square. “We will grab a cab at the intersection and head back.” He grabbed Benji’s arm, but his brother shook his hand off.

Benji stepped closer to Anie. “G-give us a m-minute to s-say g-goodbye,” he said, not looking at Joseph. His brother raised his hands in surrender and stepped back a few paces.

Rue let go of Anie’s arm. “Catch up to me, okay?” she said.

Anie nodded and turned to Benji. The world changed again. Benji was in the tunic again, and she was in the matching sheath dress. “What is this?” she asked. She stepped to him and put her hands on his torso. Benji wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her close to him.

“I d-don’t kn-now. It f-feels like a m-memory,” Benji said.

Anie gazed into his face. Fear of losing him, his going and never coming back irrationally blossomed in her brain. “I don’t want you to go. I just found you, and I feel like if you go, I may never see you again. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I do.” She started shivering though the weather wasn’t in the least bit cold.

Benji held her closer and tried to make her feel safe by using his body to shield Anie from their surroundings. “I’m r-right here.”

Putting her arms on his shoulders, Anie could hide her face in the crook of his neck. She could feel his hands, one down her right side and the other behind her head, gently holding her to him. She knew she could stay like this forever, and he wouldn’t push her way or harm her. She did stay there for a long moment to let her panic subside. Then she slid her hands down to his broad, firm chest and lifted her head to look him in the face. “You have my number, and I have yours. Text me. I know you will send the dinner details, but that’s not what I mean when I say text me. I mean, talk to me. It will be hours until dinner, and I will have to video call my parents. Otherwise, the only person I have to talk to is Rue. It’s you I want to spend my time with, okay?”

He smiled. “Okay.” Benji touched her cheek and leaned in. She met him halfway and kissed him. They relished this stolen moment in this hidden place. When they parted, the world had returned. “Y-you sh-should catch your s-sister,” he said. Anie nodded, and slowly, they let go of one another before going their separate ways.

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Further Recommendations

prbeauty88: Love it! Literally kept me guessing and hit!

Loner_: This story was so good, i loved the ending! There were a few grammar and spelling mistakes but thats alright! I fell in love with the characters and i loved the ending 🥺

Jade: I love it! Great book!!

huldamagambou: Je passe facilement de la joie à la colère et à de nombreux questionnement ce roman est immersif à souhait j'apprécie vraiment

Jordan: An easy read, it moves very quickly and towards the end it did feel a bit rushed and sometimes forced, but it’s an enjoyable read that you can be done with in an hour or so!

Carine: J’adore la fluidité de cette histoire , il y a une vraie intrigue , on se doute bien que ce loup shadow est un métamorphose, juste il faut laisser le temps au temps

Diamond: I love this whole book so much and it is done so amazingly and the imagination is amazing!

Claudia: Wie ich schon im Kommentar geschrieben habe. An der Rechtschreibung muss noch was getan werden. Die Geschichte an sich ist gut geschrieben.

raelynn: This book is good I would recommend to 20+

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Kaari: I love the fact that these don't have to be long stories to really get involved with the story and the characters.

Kaari: Just finishing book 4 of this great series and will read 5 before the night is through

Kaari: I'm pretty sure I'm going to be reading all of these back to back great stuff

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